Autumn Makes Me Happier And More Productive, And Here's Why

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 
Elizabeth Broadbent

I live in the South, the capital of South Carolina to be exact. For three months out of the year, the temperature reliably hovers around 100 degrees with 100% humidity. Your bra sticks to your boobs. Your boobs stick to your chest. Your thighs stick to each other, and your hair frizzes up and out like the worst before picture in the history of before pictures.

So we do what any sane people would: We hide indoors, emerging only for darkness, pools, and splash pads. We guzzle sweet tea. We thank Jesus for His sweet, sweet gift of air conditioning. And we pine, just once, to wear a long-sleeved shirt.

Some of us cope okay. But some of us begin to fray around the edges. After all, we’re stuck inside all day. The sun is a sandblaster in your eyes and an oven on your skin.

I find myself getting more anxious. I need more anti-anxiety drugs, more often. I get desperately upset for no reason. This July, I cried and cried over a work-related issue that wouldn’t normally register on my radar. I’m clingy with my husband. I’m short with my kids.

According to Psychology Today, I could have what’s called reverse seasonal affective disorder. In fact, 1 in 10 people who suffer from seasonal affective disorder suffer from it in reverse: They get depressed in the summer and invigorated in the winter.

And I definitely get invigorated in the winter. I start to feel better as the weather cools. I love that slight chill in the morning air, the chill that means colder weather is coming. I snatch up long-sleeved shirts as soon as they hit the store shelves, and I plan winter outfits obsessively. I buy slouchy winter hats in the middle of August and try them on in front of the mirror. Because when the days come, I want to be ready. I will swathe myself in layers. I will wake up early in the cold dawn, pad across chilly floors in a robe to my hot cup of coffee. I will actually need socks again, and I will wear coats, and I will do work curled under a throw I crocheted myself.

I will make more art in the autumn and winter. I will spend more time outside. My hair will fall around hats, and I will laugh puffs of cloud. Leaves will crunch underfoot while a cup of coffee keeps my hands warm in fingerless gloves. I will feel and look like a human again, not a pale, half-plucked chicken in flip-flops and a long, loose, light dress.

And I’m not the only one.

Rachel, 31, agrees with me. She says, “The summer drains me completely. I loathe the summer.” This might be because, like me, she lives in the South, where summer lasts approximately half the calendar year. She says, when those chilly days finally come, “I feel refreshed, inspired, and invigorated. Plus, l love the holidays. I love how our thoughts are geared towards being together and enjoying traditions for those three months or so. It recharges me.”

She brings up a good point. Memorial Day and the Fourth are all lots of burgers and dogs and fireworks and fun, but they don’t have that homey, all-together group hug of Christmas and Thanksgiving. Christmas is presents and kisses under the mistletoe and the smell of pine. You might eat yourself silly on Thanksgiving, but you also go around the table and say what you’re thankful for. There’s meaning there. There’s something we crave.

Emily, 34, feels invigorated in the fall for another reason: Fall, she says, is about new beginnings. “New clothes, new school year, new beginning,” she says. Kristi, 47, agrees: Fall, for her, is “fresh starts…new school supplies, new schedule.” They’re right. I went to school through a graduate program, then taught at a university, and even now, autumn seems brimming with fresh possibility. My husband still teaches, and he’s always ready and excited for the new year to start, with new ideas, new books, new challenges to meet.

Even if you’re not in school anymore, just seeing those big yellow buses on the road can give your heart a sentimental jump. Something is starting. Something is brewing. There is a sense of change, of growth.

Then there’s the opposite of the Southern conundrum. Toni, 34, lives in the Pacific Northwest, where, she says, “when the sun is out we give it all the attention because we don’t see it as much as other parts of the country.” Because of this, she says, “The bright, unrelenting sunshine of summer sucks away my desire to be productive. I feel like all I can do is just enjoy the sun.” She says, because of that, when the gray and cloudy weather of fall comes back, she feels like she can be more productive. “I feel like I have more energy and desire to do stuff because it’s like, ‘Well, it’s raining again. Guess I’ll go organize my closet.’’

So while everyone knows that summer has its legions of adoring fans, there are certainly those of us who go nuts for fall — and not (just) because it’s pumpkin spice season. We love that we’re not, as Emily says, “giant balls of sweat.” We love to wear cold-weather clothes, and drink cold-weather drinks, and break out the boots and scarves and hats again. There are leaves to crunch and holidays to look forward to, a sense, for some of us, of new beginnings and fresh starts.

It helps dissipate some of our anxiety and mental load.

So you can keep your beach days. I’ll take my sweaters and my slouchy hats, my coats and cups of flavored coffee. I’ll take Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year celebrations. And yes, like Meg Ryan in You’ve Got Mail, I’ll be loving that new-box-of-crayons smell of the season.

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